By THEODORA STITES
The New York Times
I'm 24 years old, have a good job, friends. But like many of my
generation, I consistently trade actual human contact for the more
reliable emotional high of smiles on MySpace, winks on Match.com and
pokes on Facebook. I live for Friendster views, profile comments and
the Dodgeball messages that clog my cellphone every night.
I prefer, in short, a world cloaked in virtual intimacy. It may be
electronic, but it is intimacy nevertheless. Besides, eye contact
isn't all it's cracked up to be and facial expressions can be so hard
to control. My life goes like this: Every morning, before I brush my
teeth, I sign in to my Instant Messenger to let everyone know I'm
awake. I check for new e-mail, messages or views, bulletins,
invitations, friend requests, comments on my blog or mentions of me or
my blog on my friends' blogs.
Next I flip open my phone and check for last night's Dodgeball
messages. Dodgeball is the most intimate and invasive network I belong
to. It links my online community to my cellphone, so when I send a
text message to 36343 (Dodge), the program pings out a message with my
location to all the people in my Dodgeball network. Acceptance into
another person's Dodgeball network is a very personal way to say you
want to hang out.
I scroll through the messages to see where my friends went last night,
and when, tracking their progress through various bars and noting the
crossed paths. I check the Google map that displays their locations
and proximity to one another. I note how close Christopher and Tom
were last night, only a block away, but see that they never met up.
I log on to my Friendster, Facebook, MySpace and Nerve accounts to
make sure the mail bars are rising with new friend requests, messages
I am obsessed with testimonials and solicit them incessantly. They are
the ultimate social currency, public declarations of the intimacy
status of a relationship. "I miss running around like crazy w/you in
the AM and sneaking away to grab caffeine and gossip," Kathleen
commented on my MySpace for all to see. Often someone will write, "I
just posted to say I love you."
I click through the profiles of my friends to the profiles of their
friends (and their friends of friends, and so on), always aware of the
little bar at the top of each profile indicating my multiple
connections. A girl I know from college is friends with my friend from
college's best friend from Minnesota. They met at camp in seventh
grade. The boyfriend of my friend from work is friends with one of my
friends from high school. I note the connections and remind myself to
IM them later. On Facebook, I skip from profile to profile by clicking
on the faces of posted pictures. I find a picture of my sister and her
boyfriend, click on his face and jump right to his page.
Pictures are extremely necessary for enticing new friends -- the more
pictures the better. I change my pictures at least once a week.
There are hidden social codes in every image. Shadows and prominent
eyes: not confident about their looks. Far away and seated in
beautiful scenery: want you to know they're adventurous. Half in the
picture: good looking but want you to know they're artistic, too.
Every profile is a carefully planned media campaign. I click on the
Friendster "Who's Viewed Me" tab to see who has stumbled upon my
profile recently, and if people I don't know have checked me out, I
immediately check them back. I get an adrenaline rush when I find out
that a friend of a friend I was always interested in is evidentially
interested in me, too.
Just imagine if we could be this good in person. Online, everyone has
bulletproof social armor.